Test Drive of The i2Go eGo with IBM MicroDrive.

by Richard Menta 9/01/00

Think of the i2Go eGo as the MP3 equivalent of a Cadillac. Chock full of the latest features, some unique to the model, clever in detail, and big as hell.

Of course, big is a subjective word. In this case it means it is the SAME size as a portable cassette unit. Designed primarily for use in the car, the eGo nonetheless functions well as pocket portable. We tested the unit with both a 32MB CompactFlash card and the IBM 340MB drive.


The 20GB Rio Riot Jukebox can be ordered from Amazon

We were particularly eager to test the Microdive as this is our first experience with it. The amazing thing about this drive is that it is the exact same size as the CompactFlash card, whose slot it is designed to fit in. Know what is even more amazing in regards to size? While we were reviewing this player, IBM announced the release of a new 1GB version of the Microdrive! An announcement that i2Go immediately followed with their own that they are adding this new drive to the player line.

The 1GB drive alone is priced aggressively at $499.00. Better yet, the price of a 340MB Microdrive will drop to $299. That is a lot of space for the money relative to the price of flash cards which presently run around $800 for a 224MB CompactFlash card. Hopefully, it will pressure a drop in flash prices too.

The Hardware

The eGo resembles a tricorder from Star Trek more than it does an MP3 player. As we said, it is a relatively big unit as MP3 players go. We held it up next to our Rio 500 and roughly found it to be twice the thickness as well as slightly larger in width and length. The good news is the eGo takes full advantage of this size difference.

First of all the unit has two CompactFlash slots. If you install two of the new IBM 1GB drives inside, that's 2GB of memory in a unit that is the smallest MP3 anything to hold that much memory! See what we meant by relative when we were discussing size.

The eGo comes with a generous set of accessories to get you started. This includes a car kit composed of a cassette adapter, cigarette lighter adapter, both a straight and coiled external power cable, a direct power cable if you choose to hook the eGo directly to the battery, and a windshield mounting bracket. Earphones, a belt clip, and a neoprene carrying bag round out the list.

We started our tests with the 32MB CompactFlash card and ran the basic play functions. The unit connects to the computer via a USB connection. These faster connections are already replacing the parallel port connections found on first generation MP3 players.

One concern we had was with the primary card slot. When inserted, the card sticks out about 1/8 of an inch. That's not a lot, but we wonder if it makes the card vulnerable to drops, which are to be expected with any portable unit. We say that because the player once slipped from our hands onto a tabletop while we were listening. The unit hit the table right on the card and it popped out. The card worked fine when we popped it back in, no damage. Still, we feel relieved the expensive Microdrive wasn't in at the time.

IBM Microdrive

Once we were done gathering our basic usability impressions with the flash card, we moved on to the 340 MB drive.

First word of warning on the 340MB drives, they eat batteries for lunch. A fresh set of Duracel Ultra's were killed in about an hour. At first we thought there was something wrong with the unit because the display still lit up and the battery gauge reported that the battery still had medium power left. Even though we could hear the drive spin, tunes would not play. Furthermore, the buttons became sluggish requiring several clicks just to advance the display to try another file.

Another fresh set of batteries cured this, but they too were done in within the hour. We went through several sets for this test. Obviously, the Microdrives require batteries in the full state to give them the static push they need. Our advice, if you want to use this unit with the Microdrive for your power walks, go with lithium batteries. Also don't discard your spent batteries as they have a couple of hours left in them to run the unit when the low power CompactFlash cards are re-inserted.

Power was a non-issue when we used the Microdrive unit in the car. Fed by the cigarette lighter, it provided a pleasant selection of music for hours. No cassettes or CD's lying on the floor. No need to install an elaborate CD changer in the trunk. The advantages were obvious and wonderful. It spoiled us and we will have trouble going back to 64MB players after this.

The windshield mounting bracket, two suction cups on a steel cantilever support that smoothly locks into the back of the unit, proved to be an effective and clever way to mount the unit for the road. The display points conveniently to the driver and passenger. Depending on the slope of your windshield and where you stick the player, it could be a little stretch to reach the controls, but they were big enough and well laid out so this was not much of a problem for us.

i2Go thought ahead for those who have open space on the dash that can fit the eGo. For those who wish for a more permanent installation setup, they include a convenient direct power cable that pulls its juice right from the car battery, a nice option.

More Options

Another useful item on the i2Go eGo is an external speaker. The delivery is only in mono and the small speaker only offers modest sound, but we found ourselves using it quite often when others were around.

The i2Go has voice recording capability. To record, hold down the 'I' button for about two seconds. Hit the button again to stop.

Want more options? I2Go MP3Agent, the software that comes with the player, has text-to-speech capabilities designed to translate the morning email into MP3 files to listen to on the commute in. This culd be a lifesaver to busy dot-com employees who get backlogged with a hundred messages.

To round out the options, the eGo has a clock that is automatically set by your computer's clock the first time you connect it to download music. Another well thought out touch.

MyAudio2Go.com

One of the best options available from the folks at i2Go is a website they created called MyAudio2Go.com. On this site you can download daily news stories in MP3 format. You can select articles covering the top news stories, sports, business and finance, even recaps of a dozen or so television shows like ER. We loved this site and the best news is you don't need an i2Go to download and play these files. Check this site out!

Getting Started

We had no problem hooking the unit through the USB port, our computer immediately recognized the drive.

The file management software MP3Agent worked well. File transfers were simple and quick. One warning, use the upload button to transfer your files to the player. We made the mistake of dragging some files from Explorer into the window. It works this way, but sometimes the files you transfer become hidden. The window will say you have filled the memory, but the songs visible in the menu tell you there should be several MB of space left.

Controls

The buttons were big, with a clean solid click, and were well layed out. Cycling through the various menus can be annoying at times, though, requiring several clicks to make a simple change. The keystrokes are not the most intuitive either and since the display offers little in direction, reading the instructions is recommended.

The instruction manual was clear and overall good, but not all the information you need is there. For example, if you want to use the voice recorder, the only mention of that feature in the instructions was under "See Online Help for instructions on how to Record Memos". This was not the only feature that directed us to the Web to learn how to use it..

Needless to say, we played a stubborn person and tried to figure it out for ourselves. We know there are many people who ignore instructions all together, let alone take the time to go to the Net for them, so we tried until we got it. We hope they are patient. It took us a while before we thought to hold down the "I" button for a second or so to activate the record. Assuming we received an early production box, we expect i2Go will update their print instructions soon.

The unit does not have a hold button, surprising for a high-end unit with so many clever features.

Display

The i2Go uses a bright LED display that we thought was excellent for clarity. We just wonder why they only made it a one line display. They did a very good with only one line, ID3 tags scroll with the track info quite well. We just can't help thinking another line of information could help guide the user when fumbling with the necessary keystroke moves.

Sound

Excellent, just like all of the MP3 players we have tested to date.

Conclusion

The i2Go's features and flexibility, especially in the memory category, could easily make it the top MP3 player out there now. What holds it back are several minor annoyances involving its file transfer software, controls, instruction manual, and display. The Rio 500 is more polished in these categories, but the Rio cannot read flash cards higher than 32MB, stranding it at a 96MB maximum capacity.

The i2Go can handle up to 2GB with the release of the new Microdrives, which makes it the preeminent unit today when it comes to the balance of memory and unit size. This combined with some very useful features not seen in any other portable to date and we can overlook the shortcomings mentioned above. While it is very expensive to equip this player with that much memory now, prices will come down.

The Microdrives serve best in the car where unlimited electric power allows it to do what it does best, stream hours of music without the need to change the CD or cassette. That's a convenience that shows off the true advantages of digital music players over traditional formats.

Bottom line, if you plan on using your player on the road, this is the unit to get. Same thing if you want a player with lots of cutting edge features. No other portable can touch the i2Go eGo in this category and that will make a difference a year or two from now when owners of other MP3 players feel compelled to update their units and you don't. That alone says alot about this player and makes it most desirable. Just be patient with the eGo's foibles.

Final Score A-

Copyright 2000 MP3 Newswire. All rights reserved.

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